Saturday, 31 December 2016

Celebrity, sorrow and 2016

I don't really think much of the culture of celebrity that has grown over the last few decades and don't pay a lot of attention to it. It has been suggested that our obsession with celebrity is a kind of substitute for religion, allowing us to pay homage to our quasi-divinities, worship their fame and achievements and model ourselves on them. I don't know how much that is true, but certainly the reaction to the death of someone famous is interesting, the shrines and tributes which are set up, the media encouragement to join in the general adulation.
It isn't really surprising that over the last few weeks whenever the radio has chirped at me, "which death in 2016 broke your heart?" I've swiftly turned the thing off, however I have to say that the news of Debbie Reynolds' sudden death following the news of her daughter Carrie Fisher's death gave me a real  pang of sadness. This reaction was not because I was a particular fan of either actress but just because the story spoke to me about the way in which this world can be so cruel, irrespective of rank, age, wealth or status. The death of a child, at any age is a particularly cruel blow.
 My late mother in law lost both her husband and daughter. Her husband died of a heart attack at only 41 and her daughter, despite excellent general health, died on Boxing Day over twenty years later aged 35 after catching flu. Marion found the death of her husband devastating and for a time went to pieces. It was a particularly difficult time for Kev, who at sixteen had some of the responsibility to care for his younger brother and sister fall on his shoulders and  left school to help support the family. Yet Marion always said that, although she finally came to accept the death of a husband at such a young age, nothing could bring her to fully accept the loss of  her daughter because you do not expect to lose a child, it is not in the natural order of things. It made it more difficult that her daughter had been about to get married the following year, or perhaps it didn't, I'm not sure anything makes such a loss more difficult, it just exposes a fresh facet over which to grieve.
Anyhow, I sincerely hope that 2016 does not bring a final celebrity death, not least for the selfish reason that I don't want to hear about it. But we should reflect that for every celebrity heart break story,  many more similar, unheard stories are playing out across the country and world.  And maybe it is this that lies at the heart of our shock at celebrity death, the incredulity that it could happen to them, that they are not immortal or invulnerable despite the fact they possess this alchemy of fame. At the end of the day, in the face of death and pain none of us is invulnerable and all of us are equal.

To end this New Year's Eve reflection, I give you Margaret Atwood's The Sad Child which I think explores our modern day cult of self ,our petulant outrage when life give us things we do not welcome and the thought provoking conclusion of the poem that in the face of death or tragedy none of us is the favourite child- or else we all are.

The Sad Child

You're sad because you're sad.
It's psychic. It's the age. It's chemical.
Go see a shrink or take a pill,
Or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll
you need to sleep.

All children are sad 
but some get over it.
Count your blessings.

Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget.

Forget what?
Your sadness, your shadow,
whatever it was that was done to you
the day of the lawn party
when you came inside flushed with the sun,
your mouth sulky with sugar,
in your new dress with the ribbon
and the ice-cream smear,
and said to yourself in the bathroom,
I am not the favorite child.

My darling, when it comes
right down to it
and the light fails and the fog rolls in
and you’re trapped in your overturned body
under a blanket or burning car,
and the red flame is seeping out of you
and igniting the tarmac beside your head
or else the floor, or else the pillow,
none of us is;
or else we  all are.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Journaling grief (2)

Well, Christmas was difficult but I got through it. I actually wasn't well at all having developed a heavy cold which was a kind of blessing as it meant I could quite legitimately go to bed for several hours in the afternoon and wipe out a whole chunk of the day. The hardest thing for me was sitting at the table and being very conscious of the empty space where Kev would be.The whole of Christmas was always a very meaningful time for us as both our sons have birthdays in the week before Christmas (timing not our strong suit) and the season always held memories of bringing them home as babies, of children's parties (some pretty stressful) and of milestones reached. My youngest son's twenty first birthday last week was very hard. Kev was so proud of him and it just seemed wrong that he couldn't be there.
 These last few weeks and months have made me reflect that when you lose someone very close to you,  it is stronger than that you  want them back, it is more that you still need that person in your life.  I've needed Kev ever since I met and fell in love with him; from then on I didn't just feel I wanted to be with him, more that I had to, it was hardly a matter of choice ; he just wasn't an optional extra. As a result, I am struggling to know how to go on with my life. I guess this is the same for everyone who has been bereaved.
Although I haven't had any more flashback dreams since breaking up, I have had two recurrent dreams. The first is based on the death of Princess Diana and the morning that I went to the Tesco in  Basildon where we then lived and saw the headlines in the newspaper. You might remember those newspapers with huge headlines saying "Diana dead."Only in this dream row upon row of headlines say "Kev is dead". In the dream it seems to me that there might be a mistake and I ask the shoppers around me if it is a misprint. They all shrug their shoulder and walk on, nobody is remotely interested. When I think about this dream the next day I imagine Kev at his most Essex would seriously take the piss;" I ain't bleeding Princess Diana."
 In the second dream I am standing next to a thin strip of wood over a chasm (think Niagara Falls!) There is a man in the dream who tells me I have to walk over it. I tell him I can't and he then says I must and he gives me a stick which he says will help me balance. He then says I  must do it blindfolded. Once blindfolded, I realise the stick is of no use as I can't see and so I put it on the ground, go down on my hands and knees and feel for the edge of the plank to crawl across. This is as far as the dream goes.You don't need to be a psychoanalyst to work out what these dreams mean, the first that I need to take in the big news and the second that I must find a way forward even if I can't see one.
I've got two invites in the next few days to New Year type events/ parties and don't feel in a party mood! I only seem to want to spend time with members of my immediate family at the moment, I can't be bothered to go out and make small talk, even with people who are/ were quite good friends. I will try to go to the first one as I don't want to end up completely isolated in the future, the invite for New Year's Eve itself I really can't face. I think that calls for an early night.
I know I have a few readers but I am closing comments on this post, as it says, it is just a writing out of grief and nobody has to find anything to say about my grumblings.
 However, I do wish you all the best for the coming year.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
 till men and nations were at peace.
came when the Heavens were unsteady,
 prisoners cried out for release.

 He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure.
 In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

 He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
 the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
 to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

 Madeleine L’Engle

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Kindness and exhaustion

Looking at my last two posts, the titles are all abstract noun doubles, loss and grief, love and hope, kindness and exhaustion. Well, I'm not trying to turn into some sort of blogging Jane Austen title generator, I just post what comes to mind!
The exhaustion in the title is what I am feeling at the moment. The term running up to Christmas is in general the worst in terms of being pretty full on and usually the holiday can't come too soon. For me this week has been particularly hard as I haven't been sleeping (I generally do suffer from insomnia.) Tuesday night was particularly bad; I had several flashback dreams around the memory of finding Kev on the day he died and only slept in snatches, possibly only two or three hours. It was  stupid of me to go into work the next day, but I was staying on late due to a visiting speaker who was giving a talk to the Lower Sixth and I couldn't see how I could ask anyone else to do it.
The kindness in the title refers to my wonderful colleagues who noticed what I looked like (apparently like I'd been punched in the face-..thanks Tom...) and bravely ventured down the Senior Management corridor to insist I got sent home. The result was that I left at 3.30 thus also missing the traffic build up that I would have led to an hour or more journey home that I often face.
My colleagues are not the only people who have been kind over the last few weeks, shortly after the funeral, life seemed to go very quiet and I didn't hear from anyone for some weeks. Yet these last few weeks  I've had several people contact me to offer meals, visits and trips out. Ironically, I can't take them up on this because I am shattered and just need peace and quiet. I do feel bad about this and I don't want to lose friends but I am just not up to socialising so I  hope and pray they will understand that it is a way of showing kindness to myself.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Love and peace

My youngest son phoned me last night to say he is coming home from university sometime this week and I am looking forward to his return. This might not sound so surprising but it is actually the first time I have consciously looked forward to something since Kev died. Driving home from work that day I was looking forward to the weekend which we had already planned together. Since then I haven’t really been able to anticipate anything with pleasure except perhaps sleep and even that can be marred by insomnia or distressing dreams. So the sensation of looking forward is a good one; I am looking forward just to seeing Matt, to a hug, to the chance to feed him, to talk, and to listen to him and his brother.  Although my sons are not very close they do increasingly talk to each other and will even have a laugh and joke sometimes– for the bantz- as they say!
It is a real blessing that I have my family and I was aware, even through the first shock and numbness, that I had two young people both to some extent dependent on me and so I had to keep going. It is one of the things that gets me out of bed at 6.15 on a freezing morning and into work and it is what will make it possible for me to keep some sort of a Christmas this year. Left to my own devices, I might just crawl back into bed but my wonderful, amazing sons deserve something better than that, and so I will make sure there is at least a welcoming home and some of our family traditions, even though the lynchpin of that family is no longer here.
I’ve been trying to think about Advent and what it means to me this year. Advent is often seen as a period of joyful waiting and watching but it is true to say that it is not wholly devoid of the bleakness of waiting, of waiting that seems to have no end. Surely we find such waiting in the long and doubtless grief-stricken barrenness of Elizabeth, in characters such as Simeon and the tradition of his increasing blindness which might be seen as a metaphor for the gradual extinguishing of hope, in the long exile of the Jews, and in all who wait for deliverance. Bonhoeffer described Advent as like, "a prison cell in which we wait and hope, the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside," while C.S.Lewis gives us Narnia where it is always winter and never Christmas and the hapless figures at Cair Paravel are paralysed, frozen in time.

I know that come Christmas day our family will still be paralysed with grief because grief has its own time and seasons and by its nature won’t and can’t be hurried on. But we will talk, laugh,  maybe cry. There may only be a little joy but I am hoping for peace,and I am sure there will be plenty of love.